LAS VEGAS — David Blatt doesn’t sit much.
That’s one of the first things you notice when you watch him on the sidelines of a game — he’s in motion.
Like he wants his offense to be.
NBA rookie Blatt will coach the Cleveland Cavaliers next fall — a team now flush with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and some very interesting young talent, not to mention skyrocketing expectations — yet he remains a mystery to many. He comes with the reputation of being an offensive genius, but there is no frame of reference with him. Blatt, an American who played at Princeton, spent the last few decades overseas, becoming one of the top coaches on that continent — he just led Maccabi Tel Aviv to an upset EuroLeague title win. He is the first coach to make the leap straight to head NBA coach from there. He is unique.
How is all that going to translate to the NBA?
We are just starting to see that at Summer League. Among the things you can learn watching him courtside in Las Vegas is he’s often moving. Summer League coaches tend to be planted in their chairs more than you see during the regular season. Not Blatt. He stands and paces, usually with his hands in his jean pockets. And he’s talking. To his players, his coaches, and nobody in particular.
“Andrew roll (off that pick). Go set another one.”
“Come through. Come through.”
“Use the screen.”
“Will (Cherry), one side, run it away from Jo (Harris, the other guard on the court).”
He implores his guys to get out and run at every opportunity, even off opponent makes.
Blatt leaps into a low defensive crouch with his arms extended to urge Steven Gray to get in a better defensive position late in a tight game. He talks to his guys more about defense than offense.
And he’s often talking to the bench, trying to teach the guys sitting there (or muttering things to his assistant coaches). At one point on a play where he likes what Anthony Bennet did setting a pick, Blatt walks down the bench and explains what he likes to the other bigs sitting there.
What you learn watching him is he an old-school coach in the meaningful sense — he likes teaching the game. He likes learning about the game. Talk to him a couple times and you see he’s a student of the game.
“All coaches should learn from other coaches, because as John Wooden says ‘it’s what you learn after you know everything that counts,’” Blatt said Thursday. “So I like to listen to guys like coach (Larry) Brown and many others.”
But what does all that mean for the Cavaliers offense?
There will be some Princeton in his offense — move the ball and keep moving off the ball — but what you can expect to see is an up tempo offense that is more about reading what the defense givez and trying to exploit it.
“I kind of want to see what the rest of my team is going to look like but right now, without question, we have some really good and intelligent players,” Blatt told ProBasketballTalk. “That will allow us to be a lot more read oriented then specific play oriented.”
That said, Blatt doesn’t have the answers on exactly what the offense and Cavaliers will look like because he is still figuring it all out. That’s what the summer is for.
“I have a big job to figure out the best way for us to play and utilize the many, many possibilities that are now at our disposal,” Blatt said earlier in the week. “I said the other day our set of limitations has changed and raised exponentially. There are a lot of possibilities and factors to be considered in building a team with guys that really want to play and want to play right.”
Has he consulted LeBron yet? Not yet, but they have texted.
“Everybody keeps asking if I’ve talked to LeBron. LeBron and I are going to talk a lot. Believe me,” Blatt said.
What Blatt does understand that there is a different rhythm to coaching in the NBA compared to Europe and he needs to get used to it, which is why he took on coaching the Summer League team when most coaches leave that to an assistant (fellow rookie coach Steve Kerr did the same thing).
“You’ve probably paid attention, I’ve blown enough situations in terms of timeouts and things like that,” Blatt said of his Summer League performance. “You know that’s why I wanted to do Summer League, I’m coming from a different set of rules and in some ways a different kind of basketball and the best thing I can do is immerse myself in that and take my hits, so to speak, make mistakes and get the knowledge from the coaches I need. It’s not things that are earth shattering, just knowing the rules and knowing what does and doesn’t go. So I’m really glad I had this experience, it helped me a lot.”
Blatt is polished and smooth with the media, flashes a good sense of humor and seems to being enjoying himself. He’s likable, the kind of guy you’d want to hang out and have a beer with.
But I don’t know how long he’d sit there. Blatt is a guy with a huge job this summer to put together systems to maximize what should be one of the East’s best teams.
Plus, he’s not a guy that sits much.